Fox News Smackdown!
October 19, 2005
By Darryl Cramer
Duprée's massive, 6'3" 250-pound body struts onto the
stage. Surrounded by blaring music, fireworks and artificially-enhanced
women gyrating in skin-tight outfits, he flexes his substantial
muscles and waves the French flag. In no hurry, he sneers at the
crowd as he moves towards the ring. Upon relieving the announcer
of the microphone, his booming voice declares to the overwrought
crowd, "Je vous annonce que je suis fabuleux!" ("I
tell you that I am fabulous!") His accent betrays the fact
that he is not French, rather French-Canadian, but no one seems
to observe or care about the nuance: they clearly hate the guy.
Professional wrestling does not, however, have a monopoly on explosive
visual and audio pyrotechnics. While one might expect to find such
eye-popping exhibitions on MTV or Monday Night Football, a 24-hour
news network would be less obvious. Nevertheless, Fox News does
not disappoint. Tune in seeking to find out what is going on in
the world and be barraged by screaming opinion show hosts, wagging
fingers, whirling graphics, smiling commentators and breaking news
"alerts" for stories that might normally be considered
banal. We can be thankful for being unable to view the spectators,
but one might imagine their reactions to be equally rapturous.
Young men always have been, and most assuredly always will be,
enthralled by gladiator-like sports heroes and the accompanying
Bacchanalian festivities. Nonetheless, a considerable amount of
the appeal in professional wrestling can be attributed to simplicity
of the plot lines and even more so to the lack of subtlety in the
characters. While the sophistication of the shows has evolved somewhat
from good guys in white and bad guys in black, the positions of
the performers are easily discernable to even the most casual observers.
Even so, for the spectacularly obtuse, the World Wrestling Entertainment
web site provides the following in Mr. Duprée's profile: "At
the height of recent tension between the U.S. and France, the pompous
Frenchman [once again, he is Canadian] debuted using the conflict
as a platform to promote French culture and his claim of French
superiority over that of any other nation or culture in the world!"
As a result, like students attending a high-school football game,
no one is ever encumbered by uncertainty about for whom to root.
Fox News provides the same soothing clarity. The complex issues
of our day are quickly and effortlessly dismantled into their good
and evil components. The Republican Party, for its part, has also
seized upon this powerful tool. The "you're-either-with-us-or-against-us"
mentally relieves people of the mental struggle of having to determine
if, well, someone is with us or against us. Cognitive dissonance
is not an obstacle.
Liberals deride conservatives for living in their condition of
conflict resulting from their inconsistencies, but Fox News solves
this issue by simply not addressing it. How was the Republican Party's
reaction to Terri Schiavo coherent with its views on federalism?
How can they be for fiscal responsibility but not against the budget
deficit? How can they be against stem cell research yet for IVF?
If the War on Terror is of such monumental importance to every American,
how come only a very few are being asked to sacrifice anything for
There apparently is not much to be gained by muddling everyone's
brains with these dilemmas.
Eventually, however, professional wrestling has had to grapple
with the obvious: that it is fake. There is no denying that the
participants are impressive physical specimens, or that their craft
requires extraordinary athletic ability, or that they invariably
incur substantial bodily pain during their matches; but despite
the fact that any elementary school student of average intelligence
could plainly see that the bouts and ancillary theatrics are all
choreographed, professional wrestling fought hard against admitting
John Stossel, a journalist for ABC, while doing an expose for 20/20
in 1984, famously told David Schultz, aka Dr. D. (no specificity
on whether it's an M.D. or Ph.D.), that he thought professional
wrestling was fake, prompting the 6'8" 280-pound wrester to
hit him upside the head, yelling, "You think it's fake?"
Mr. Schultz was fired by the World Wrestling Federation, but maintained
that he was ordered to attack Mr. Stossel. Either way, while professional
wrestling worked hard to support the frail illusion that the matches
and soap opera antics were real, they finally succumbed.
Vince Russo, one of wrestling's best scriptwriters, discusses this
fact in a recently released documentary, "Pro Wrestling's Ultimate
Insiders." "It's not rocket science," he says while
talking about the story lines he fabricated. "Put your finger
on the pulse and give the people what they want." Ultimately,
the World Wrestling Federation, under pressure from the World Wildlife
Fund (also WWF), but also to a certain extent in acknowledgement
of the scripted nature of their business, even changed its name
to World Wrestling Entertainment.
No one should hold his or her breath waiting for Fox News to change
its name to Fox Entertainment, but it would not be entirely inappropriate.
Sure they discuss issues of the day, and sure they introduce facts
here and there, and sure they send personnel into the field to interview
people; but despite the fact that any reasonably balanced individual
with a modicum of sense of reality can plainly see that the coverage
is egregiously slanted, Fox News continues to call itself "fair
There are innumerable anecdotes that could be presented here to
make this case, but "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism,"
a brilliant documentary by director Robert Greenwald, does a wonderful
job at chronicling how the network misrepresents facts, manufactures
terror and slanders liberals and adulates the President, all with
the sole purpose of advancing its right-wing agenda. The film uncovers
daily internal memos that outline conservative talking points, nonconformists
that are threatened with their jobs and correspondents that often
do not even pretend to be impartial.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) correctly accused Fox News of being "an
adjunct of the Republican Party." As far as journalism is concerned,
it is difficult to avoid remarking the obvious: that it is fake.
In the end, though, the general public will inevitably catch on,
or, having done so long ago, grow bored, rendering the medium something
somewhat less than it used to be. Professional wrestling still captivates
a depressingly wide audience, but its heyday must have been in October
1999 when World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE) launched its
IPO. The stock debuted around $25, but quickly plummeted and has
languished under $15 for over four years, briefly dropping below
$8 at a couple points. Pay-per-view sales have been weak and attendance
at live events has been dropping since 2001. There has even been
a class-action lawsuit against the company alleging violation of
federal securities laws during the IPO.
So what is the company's strategy for liberating itself from these
doldrums? Expand internationally. To what degree and for how long
foreign markets will be enchanted by fake sports entertainment of
such a uniquely American variety remains to be seen, but perhaps
there will at least be an opportunity for Mr. Duprée to perform
in his native France.
Fox News has yet to suffer a similar fate, presumably because,
for the most part, viewers do not regard it as fake. It became the
number one prime time cable news network sometime in 2001 and has
not looked back since. There have been some signs of weakness, with
CNN reporting in April this year that Fox News' viewership of adults
between 25 and 54 had dropped for six consecutive months for a total
decline of 58%, but since Katrina the network has come back strong.
This is unfortunate since, unlike professional wrestling, Fox News
has an impact on society at large, influencing popular perception
and by extension public policy and elections. Certainly there will
always be individuals willing to sit on their sofas day in and day
out, lapping up conservative propaganda, but at some point one has
to hope that people will catch on to the fact that it is entertainment
rather than news and conduct their lives accordingly.
Darryl Cramer is a writer and activist. He can be contacted
where other writings of his can be found.